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Scenes From The International Desk: Sex Abuse In India Hurts Entire Families


Earlier this year, Lauren Frayer, our correspondent based in India, heard something in southern India that stuck with her ever since - a part of a conversation that never made it into a radio story but has haunted her since she recorded it. Now, all this week, we're asking our international correspondents to bring us scenes that hit the cutting room floor but that they haven't been able to shake. My co-host Ailsa Chang spoke with Lauren Frayer. And a quick note before we get started - this story details an account of sexual assault.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: So tell us a little bit about how you ended up in this scene that we're going to hear. Who is it that we are going to be learning from today?

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: You're going to hear from Alex Thomas. He's a 37-year-old Christian man from southern India, and I met him while reporting a story about a Catholic bishop who's currently on trial here in India for allegedly raping a nun. And Alex's wife is another alleged victim. She says that she was molested and raped by her parish priest. She eventually confided in another priest that this abuse was going on, and then he, the second priest, allegedly took advantage of her, too. And so she got caught in this cycle of abuse and blackmail and silence, which subsequently affected her whole family.

CHANG: OK, let's take a listen to the conversation that you had with Alex. Just so everyone knows, we're not going to be using the victim's name or voice. This is her husband.

ALEX THOMAS: And she was with her friend (ph). And he told - if you tell this to someone else, no one will believe you.

FRAYER: And he's a priest.

THOMAS: He's a priest.

FRAYER: Are you still a believer?

THOMAS: One hundred percent. I believe in God. One hundred percent I believe in God. See - it's not because of the judge, you know. The person is guilty, but not the judge, actually. I know these people are very powerful. I'm a religious man, you know? I don't have big dreams; I have small dreams. My dreams are mine (ph).

CHANG: It's really hard to listen to him. Can you tell us what was it about this interaction that stuck with you all year?

FRAYER: For me, Alex's story is a reminder that sex abuse hurts entire families. I mean, I wasn't even talking to the victim herself. And you can hear Alex's pain there. I saw it in his face and the faces of his parents who were there when I met him, the couple's two children. His wife had moved out. And one thing that Alex struggled with was whether to believe his wife, and part of him thought, well, maybe this was just an affair. And so this was, for him, sort of a gray area. This wasn't a priest preying on a child; these were two adults who could theoretically understand consent.

CHANG: Right. Do you think there are lessons that we can draw from Alex Thomas' moment here? I mean, do you think that there's a larger story to tell?

FRAYER: There is a growing number of adult women, parishioners and nuns, coming forward, alleging abuse, and it's happening around the world. So India has six times as many Christians as Ireland.


FRAYER: And so it still might be a surprising place to hear about clergy abuse. This is a country with a deep-rooted patriarchy and caste hierarchies that often lead to powerful men, you know, not being questioned. And at the end, you hear Alex Thomas - he says he still believes in God, but he just doesn't know if these clergymen will face justice.

CHANG: That is our India correspondent Lauren Frayer with a scene that has stuck with her throughout 2019.

Thank you so much, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.